Meet Elena Garcia, Barcelona SAE’s Cultural Engagement Coordinator.
Tell us a little about your background.
I was born and raised in a town close to Barcelona but both of my parents are from the south of Spain. My dad was born in Sevilla and moved to Barcelona when he was a child and my mom’s family came to Catalonia from Granada just before she was born. During college, I did an Erasmus in Bayern, Germany. I spent 10 months there and I absolutely loved it. Before working for Barcelona SAE, I worked as an English teacher, in a youth hostel, as a summer course leader taking Spanish high school students to England, and later as a residence counselor and an activity assistant. I then spent two years working and traveling in Australia.
Any hobbies or fun facts about you?
I love reading and books in general. I’m a big movie and TV nerd, and I go to the cinema very frequently. I also love dancing and doing outdoor activities like hiking, as well as doing yoga and playing pádel.
Tell us about your role at Barcelona SAE.
As the Cultural Engagement Coordinator, I organize and plan the activity calendars for our students. I contact local providers, make reservations, sort out the logistics, and make sure we have the spaces and materials we need. I interact with the students frequently through leading many of the activities and excursions we do. I also make an effort to reach out to new local organizations to form new collaborations or partnerships for the future – for example, I’ve been working on expanding our LGBTQIA+ network for future activities and to provide more resources for our students.
Why did you choose to work for Barcelona SAE, and what do you love most about your job?
I wanted to work for Barcelona SAE because I felt very represented by the company’s core values (buen rollo, infuse education, ignite passion for Barcelona, and many more) and I felt that everything I had been doing up until that point in regards to my education, teaching, leading groups of summer students, and my own travels had led me here organically. What I love the most about my job is that I get to use my social skills everyday but also put my organizational and event planning skills to good use. I also enjoy how my job leaves space for creativity and to try new ways of doing things or incorporating new activities every semester. Moreover, I get to show my beautiful city from a local perspective to our students (which I’ve always loved to do with each of my friends that are not from Barcelona anyways!).
What are your best tips for students to get authentically involved in Spanish culture?
I would say one of the best ways to get involved in local culture is to keep up with your hobbies that you normally do at home, but find a local community to do them with. There are so many resources available like MeetUp, where you can easily meet locals that love to do the same things you do. Also, students should make the most of all the resources we provide (the Barcelona Student Guide, the Cultural Agenda, program mentors, and many more) to try to immerse themselves. I’d also recommend:
- Attending events, festivals, and places where locals go to avoid “tourist traps”
- Shop local and in-season products
- Ditch some American brands like Starbucks and try to find local places instead
- Research the history of Spain to better understand its people
- Speak and practice Spanish, even if you’re not starting off with the best level. Local people appreciate it immensely when someone makes an effort to speak Spanish and immerse themselves culturally, so this is also a great way to make new friends.